Atrocious weekend for NFL referees should make every Patriots fan nervous

Alex Reimer
January 07, 2019 - 10:50 am

We will dedicate our time this week to previewing seemingly every aspect of the Chargers-Patriots matchup: Tom Brady vs. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles’ success on the road, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram going up against the Patriots’ offensive line. But as the Chargers saw first-hand Sunday in their Wild Card Round win over the Ravens, the fine gentlemen wearing zebra-patterned shirts will almost certainly make their impact felt. 

The most bizarre sequence of Wild Card Weekend happened when the Chargers were on the verge of scoring their first touchdown of the day against the Ravens. With the ball on the two-yard line, Philip Rivers found running back Derek Watt in the flat. Watt appeared to stumble backwards into the end zone, but he was ruled down at the one. Though the ball appeared to cross the goal line, the call on the field stood following replay review.

OK, so the officials got one wrong. Melvin Gordon followed up that maddening sequence with a run up the middle, but lost control of the ball as he was lunging towards the end zone. Ravens corner Marlon Humphrey picked up the football and returned it for a touchdown, but the play was already whistled dead. So Humphrey’s extraordinary efforts did not count.

Upon replay review, the referees ruled Gordon was down but maintained possession, which looked like the least likely of the three scenarios.

Gordon wound up scoring a touchdown on the next play, which nullified the bad ruling on Watt. But the bumbling series shows how large of an effect the NFL’s incompetent referees can have on a playoff game. It is the zebra in the room. 

The Patriots already experienced the wrath of poor officiating in Week 15 against the Steelers, when they were flagged for 14 penalties, including a bevy of questionable holding calls. 

Even when the referees get a controversial call right, they have trouble explaining it. The officials correctly ruled Anthony Miller’s apparent catch-and-fumble an incompletion in the second quarter of Eagles-Bears, because no player recovered the loose ball. Deep in the NFL rulebook, it says if there is no clear recovery, the incomplete call stands. 

But that’s not what the official said into the microphone, prompting Al Michaels to ask incredulously if they’re just “making it up as they go along.”

It appears they are. We can talk about Brady and Rivers all we want, but some guy wearing a striped shirt may be one of the deciding factors Sunday. 

Related: Everything you need to know about Wild Card Weekend